How safe are full face snorkel masks and are they dangerous for snorkelers to use?
The drowning of a snorkeler in Hawaii, who was wearing a full face snorkel mask at the time, has led the industry to question the safety of these masks. Since easy breath full face masks have become extremely popular among tourists, this has led the industry to investigate whether using full face snorkel masks is dangerous.
So are full face snorkel masks safe or are they dangerous to use? Full face snorkel masks are dangerous because of the “dead Space” and the potential for the build-up of CO2 inside the mask. Deaths of snorkelers have been linked to full face snorkel masks, which is more likely to happen if you buy a cheap, poorly made mask or if these masks are used under duress.
But if you buy a trusted brand of full face snorkel mask, plus if you swim slowly and don’t exert yourself on the surface and breathe normally, the safety issue shouldn’t occur.
Like most things available buy on the market there are good products and bad products. If you buy well, you should be okay. But be aware that full face snorkel masks have their limitations. For example, you won’t to be able to surface dive or use this mask type for scuba diving.
What are the risks and limitations of the snorkel mask?
There are a number of limitations or disadvantages to a snorkel mask that you need to consider before you buy one.
These include certain safety concerns as already mentioned above. Some worry about the potential build up of CO2 or carbon dioxide. This is particularly true if you use it to do more strenuous swimming.
The limitations and potential disadvantages are as follows:
Full face snorkel mask are they safe or are they dangerous?
Snorkelling isn’t classed as a dangerous sport, unlike scuba diving. However, there has been a snorkeling fatality of a woman who drowned using a full face snorkel mask whilst snorkeling off Big Island in Hawaii.
Whilst the cause of her death is not known fully, it is confirmed that she was wearing a full-face snorkeling mask when the incident happened.
In an article in the Honolulu Civil Beat, Guy Cooper, the woman’s husband, raised concerns about the role of the full-face snorkeling mask his wife had been wearing.
Cooper said that a surfer had found his wife floating on her back in Pohoiki Bay, Hawaii, with the mask partially pulled up over her nose. “That tells me she was in trouble and tried to get the damn thing off — too late,” he said.
However, before rushing to conclusions on this, in the same article, it’s reported that between 2006 and 2015 there were 149 snorkeling-related deaths in Hawaii.
There’s no specific statistic to show how many of these were as a result of using full face snorkel masks. It’s unlikely to be many, as the Tribord Easybreath snorkel mask was only released in 2014.
The inability to swim quickly whilst snorkeling using a full face snorkel mask
The next disadvantage is the inability to swim quickly whilst wearing a full face snorkeling mask. The way the air flow works with a full face snorkel mask is not as good as the traditional snorkel.
WARNING: If you need to swim fast to safety whilst snorkeling, a full face snorkel mask is not the right kit to buy.
There is concern that there could be a build up of CO2 in the mask chamber. With this in mind and after reading a scathing write-up by The Dangerous Snorkel Club about the snorkel mask, I read this a comment.
Comment by a blog follower Gary, who had this to say:
“A little warning if using the easybreathe mask. I almost drowned in the Red Sea, Sharm el, sheik, Egypt 16th October 2015. I had ventured of the reef snorkeling for around ten minutes when I had to swim against the current to reach the jetty. Having to exert myself I found it hard to breathe and get enough air.
This resulted in me hyperventilating. I had to remove the mask and try to stay above the waves to get air to breathe. As I struggled to regain control of my breathing I realised that I could not make it back to the jetty with or without use of the easybreathe mask. My only option was to swim into the reef wall where I received bad cuts to my feet and legs. I exited the sea relieved to have escaped with my life. I feel this mask is not suitable if you need swim a lot while snorkeling as it does not provide sufficient airflow.”
Also a statement on the website of the EasyBreathe reads:
“Swimming takes a great deal more effort than snorkeling. Just like running requires much more effort than walking. Swimming training will require significant oxygen input and your body will automatically switch to intensive breathing via the mouth. In this case, the respiratory effort using the Easybreath® will be very uncomfortable.“
This is confirmation that the snorkel mask is not designed for strenuous swimming.
This disadvantage for the snorkel mask is not the same for typical mask and snorkel kit. The way you breathe through a regular snorkel makes it easy to swim fast, as your breathing is not restricted.
It’s like running when you tend to breathe through your mouth.
Full face snorkel mask how does it work?
Full face snorkel masks are different to the traditional mask and snorkel kit in how they work.
A snorkel mask allows you to breathe through your nose and mouth. Whereas the traditional mask and snorkel combination only allows you to breathe through your mouth instead.
A snorkel mask is different because the snorkel mask fits over your whole face. This difference means that instead of only being able to breathe through your mouth, as you do using a typical mask and snorkel setup, you can breathe through your nose and mouth. Just like you do normally.
But there are difficulties with this concept, which I will explain later in this article.
The snorkel part for the snorkel mask is connected at the top of the face covering. The snorkel tube itself has a dry-valve purge system (also known as a dry top system) built-in.
The dry-valve purge system prevents water from entering the top of the snorkel.
A full face snorkel mask has two separate compartments
The inside of the mask is split between two compartments. The bottom section covers your mouth and nose. This bottom section is linked to the snorkel via a chamber that runs around the outer rim of the mask. Which acts as the exhaust for when you breath out.
When you breathe in, two non-return valves on the sides of the compartment surrounding your nose allow air to be drawn in. The same air is drawn down from the snorkel tube.
The second compartment is the viewing section of the mask. Most manufactures claim a full 180 degree view for the person wearing it.
It’s claimed that unlike typical masks, the snorkel mask doesn’t fog up. But this isn’t the full story. Please read on to discover more on mask fogging when snorkeling in lower temperature waters.
There are many people (my wife included) that don’t like the restriction of only being able to breathe through their mouths. This is one of the reasons why she never took up scuba diving with me. She didn’t like the ‘mouth-breathing’ during her pool ‘try-dive’ session.
However, having read the reviews and comments from what people say about snorkel masks, some find the full face covering claustrophobic too.
How does the regular mask and snorkel work in comparison?
If you look at the conventional way that a mask and snorkel work, you have a separate mask which fits over your face. The typical mask covers your nose and stops you from breathing through it.
This forces you to breath from your mouth instead. There’s a silicone nose piece that covers your nose, which is to prevent water from entering.
Accompanying the conventional mask is the regular snorkel. This is essentially a long tube with a U-bend at the bottom that is put in your mouth.
The other end of the tube (i.e. the snorkel) goes up the side of your face and remains out of the water. When you place your face in the water, the snorkel tube enables you to continue to breath.
This conventional snorkel has a mouth piece. This mouthpiece is put into your mouth. It is held in place by small grips that your teeth bite on to. But gently to avoid damaging the mouth piece.
The snorkel is then held to the mask strap at the side of your head with a tie.
As already mentioned, there are some people who don’t like to breath only through their mouth. However, the traditional mask and snorkel setup does have its advantages over the ‘snorkel mask‘ setup, which I will come on to.
How does a full face snorkel mask work underwater?
To answer this question, it depends on what you mean by ‘underwater.’
It’s not possible to breath underwater using a snorkel mask or a traditional mask and snorkel, when you’re completely submerged. You can only breathe at the surface.
If what you mean by ‘underwater,’ as being completely submerged, then no you can’t breathe underwater with a snorkel mask.
For this you will have to hold your breath whilst you completely submerge yourself. But you’ll not be able to do this to any significant depth with snorkel masks. Which is explained in the section on ‘surface diving with full face snorkel masks‘. Or alternatively, you could learn how to scuba dive and get a certification.
Scuba diving of course allows you to breathe underwater completely submerged.
However, if what you mean by “can you breathe underwater with a full face snorkel mask,” which means just your face is submersed under the water with the top of the snorkel still above the water, then yes you can.
This is what the snorkel mask is designed to do so as to see things underwater and continue to breathe.
This is no different to the traditional method of snorkeling with the typical mask and snorkel.
What is the best mask and snorkel?
Before you start looking at who makes the best full face snorkel mask, or whether in fact you buy the typical mask and snorkel kit, you must first decide want type of snorkeling you want to do.
Before choosing the best mask and snorkel. First decide on what you want to use it for. What type of snorkeling you’ll be doing and will you also be scuba diving too.
When you first begin to snorkel, it’s all about entering the underwater world.
The mask, whether this is the full face snorkel mask setup or a mask with a separate snorkel, allows you to submerge your head underwater (making sure the top of the snorkel is still showing above the water), which allows you to see the underwater world.
Surface diving (or skin diving/free diving) with a snorkel mask; can it be done?
Certain snorkelers want to progress their snorkeling to be able to surface dive or a free dive (sometimes called skin diving). A surface dive allows you to dive down under the water, which gives another perspective on what’s to see.
Diving down allows you to take a closer look or to peer under overhangs or to look under rocks. This will help you to get closer to the action. Diving down is particularly useful if the water is not too clear. Also, if the bottom is obscured by deep water.
Snorkelers who use snorkeling to gather shells (subject to the rules of where you are snorkeling), or are spear fishing, using a surface dive is all a part of the activity.
So when choosing the mask and snorkel setup, you not only need to consider the cost and the amount you want to spend on your mask and snorkel, but you also need to consider the activity you are doing.
Can you snorkel with a snorkel mask if you wear glasses and how much are prescription snorkel masks?
If you want to know whether or not you can you wear glasses while snorkeling, the answer is no.
If you need to wear glasses to see, this shouldn’t stop you from snorkeling (or scuba diving for that matter).
There are four possible solutions to the problem (well five solutions if your eyesight isn’t too bad like mine). So let’s look at this option first.
Option 1 – Just use a normal mask or snorkel mask without your glasses
When I snorkel or dive, and although I wear glasses to drive, I never wear my glasses underwater. My prescription is very low, so I can still see.
However, there are times when I think I should treat myself to the fifth option in these solutions.
Option 2. Wear your contact lenses when snorkeling
This will work and would be okay with snorkeling. However, in our scuba diver training, it was never advisable to wear contacts underwater, just in case your mask floods and washes the contacts out from your eyes.
When considering this solution, it does depend on your prescription level. If you are still able to see without glasses or contacts like me, but wearing glasses provides that added bit of clarity, then it wouldn’t actually matter if your contacts were washed out.
However, if your prescription is a strong one and without glasses or contact lenses you are virtually blind, then this is not a good idea.
Think about what would happen if your lenses were to be washed out. This would prevent you from being able to see ands would pose as a risk and would be unsafe.
Option 3 – Bonded corrective lenses glued on the inside of your mask lens
With this option, you give your dive mask to your local dive shop, together with your glasses prescription. They send your mask off to a company that grinds a lens to your specification. This is cut to the basic shape of your mask.
The lens is then glued to the inside of your lens with special glue. This option is quite expensive, but is not the most expensive (see the next option).
Option 4 – Custom prescription lenses in your mask
This is similar to option 3 the bonded method. But with this solution the entire lens of the mask is replaced. In this case they are custom-ground to your prescription.
This option gives much better results, but of course is more expensive.
The problem with this solution, which is the same for the previous option, is what happens when your prescription changes.
With this option, you would have to send your mask away again, for completely new replacement lenses. Whereas, for the previous option it would be a matter of whether or not the lenses fixed on the inside of the mask can be remove and replaced with new ones.
Option 5 – Drop in lenses for your mask to be retro fitted by you
There’s a relatively new and better alternative you can buy. This is to buy a mask that is corrective lens compatible. You then buy the lenses to fit this mask to your prescription and then fit these yourself.
For me the last option is the better of them all, especially where your prescription is high enough to warrant needing glasses. As this works well and is not overly expensive in comparison.
What about snorkel mask for glasses wearers
With regards to glasses wearers specifically for snorkel masks. Snorkel masks have more secure straps around your head than the typical mask. Therefore, the likelihood of this type of mask being dislodged and your contact lenses being washed away, is unlikely.
Also, as this type of mask cannot be used for diving, the diving problem does not exist either. So therefore, if you are a contact lens wearer, option 2 is probably your best and cheapest solution.
How safe is snorkeling?
The main point about snorkel safety is knowing your limitations. I would always recommend to at least be able to swim before you try snorkeling.
Snorkel safety is about snorkeling within your limitations and supervising children when they are first learning the sport. It’s important to be a competent and confident swimmer to snorkel.
You want to be able to get yourself out of trouble.
- Be careful if the sea state changes.
- Be aware if you get into a current, don’t try to swim against the current but swim across it.
- If you happened to stray into an area where the swell could push you against rocks be careful and stay clear to prevent being smash into the rocks.
- Understanding the area you intend to snorkel. Check the tides or currents and how deep the water is.
Whenever you are starting a new sport, you need to understand the safety side of things first. This is especially true if you’re introducing your children to the sport.
Traditionally, snorkeling has been done using a mask with a separate snorkel. However, the new full face snorkel mask has changed this.
Snorkel mask for beards; will they leak?
Beards for the snorkel mask can pose a problem.
Any amount of facial hair can cause leakage problem for all masks. Masks rely on creating a watertight seal against your skin to prevent them from leaking. Beard and mustache hair interrupts this watertight seal.
Even on the Easybreathe website they state: “Gentlemen, beware! Your beard may let in a considerable amount of water. It prevents a perfect seal between the mask’s silicone skirt and your skin.”
So if you have a beard you could expect to have a leak. The same applies to a traditional mask, but in this case is more about your mustache instead. Whereas the snorkel mask contacts the skin to create a seal around your jaw and chin area, the traditional mask seals around your top lip.
Therefore, mustache wearers may have a slight water leakage problem with traditional masks too.
Surfacing diving or free diving can’t be done using a snorkel mask?
As already discussed, you can’t use a snorkel mask to surface dive or freedive. This is openly admitted on the Easybreathe website.
Surface diving or free diving (also referred to as skin diving) cannot be done using snorkel masks.
The reasons for this is that during the surface dive (or duck dive), the dry top system does not work horizontally, which would mean the snorkel (and the mask) could fill with water.
But the main reason for not being able to free dive is because you’re not able to equalise.
Using the traditional mask, you are able to squeeze your nose and blow gently to clear the pressure in your ears as you descend. But because you’re not able to reach your nose with the snorkel mask, you’re not able to equalise and clear your ears on your way down.
Snorkel masks have a greater volume of air
The final reason that prevents you from free diving from the surface is the added volume of air in the snorkel mask, compared to the typical mask. On the Easybreathe website they explain that below 1 metres (3.28 feet), the pressure of the mask would become very uncomfortable on your face.
This limitation does not apply to the traditional mask and snorkel setup With a normal mask and snorkel it’s very easy to duck-dive down from a surface dive by holding your breath.
This takes a bit of practice when you are just learning. it’s also easier done wearing fins.
Snorkel masks can’t be used for scuba diving
The design of the full face snorkel mask does not allow it to be used for scuba diving. The main reason for this is the ear equalising problem describe above.
But also, it’s likely that as a scuba diver who also snorkels like I do, you’ll probably be the type of snorkeler that wants to duck-dive down to explore.
So you’ll probably want to purchase a traditional type of mask in any event for scuba diving.
Mask fogging problems
The supposed non fogging snorkel mask does not exists. The Easybreathe does claim to have an exclusive anti-fog system. However, this only works in water temperatures that are greater or equal to 18 degrees centigrade (64.4 Fahrenheit).
This means that in colder waters around for example the UK, snorkeling in the Mediterranean, or in other waters that are colder than this, the snorkel mask will fog up.
All masks will fog up due the the science behind fogging. Where the temperature of the the water is below the air temperature in the mask it’s likely to fog up.
How do you keep a snorkel mask from fogging up?
No mask is devoid of fogging, but you can take steps to avoid your snorkel mask from fogging up.
The first thing about mask fogging is keeping the inside of the lenses clean. If the lens is dirty, it’s more likely to fog.
Diving or snorkeling in colder waters means your mask in more likely to fog up. This is due to the science behind why masks fog.
This won’t stop you from using your new mask, as you can use the traditional methods to de-fogging, as you do with a typical mask – see this article “How to stop your dive mask from fogging up; 8 dive mask fog ideas and tips that work.”
However, as the lenses on a snorkel mask are not made of tempered glass. It’s therefore not recommended to use toothpaste or any abrasive material on the lens, to avoid scratching it.
From what age can you start using the snorkel mask?
The recommended age for children to start using a snorkel mask is around ten years old.
Whilst children can enjoy snorkeling, it’s safer to supervise them. But use this as an opportunity to learn with them and to enjoy the underwater world together.
This is probably sensible, and would similarly apply to the traditional mask and snorkel setup too. However, the final decision for this would fall to the parents, after doing their own research.
It’s important that children are confident and competent swimmers before being allowed to enter the water to snorkel. I would also suggest that in the early stages of their learning they are properly supervised too.
Look at it as an opportunity to do an activity together with the kids. You’ll all enjoy discovering the underwater world together.
Snorkel mask Gopro mount
With the snorkel mask there is the added benefit of a Gopro attachment mount on the top of the mask. The fixing and the way this works is actually a great feature of this mask.
However, you can still attach a Gopro to your conventional snorkeling setup too.
What is the best mask for scuba diving?
You can’t scuba dive using a snorkel mask, but you can do using a normal mask.
To scuba dive you need to be able to clear your ears on the way down. As already mentioned, as you descend below the surface, the pressure of water increases the deeper you go.
The deeper you go, the more you’ll need to equalise your ears, which is done by holding your nose and blowing down it. But as your nose is not accessible with a snorkel mask, you’re not going to be able to perform this technique.
To equalise your ears you need a traditional mask – you can’t clear your ears using a snorkel masks
The only way you’ll be able to clear your ears whilst scuba diving is to use a traditional mask. You’ll be able to pinch your nose in order to equalise your ears.
Specially designed full face scuba diving masks are designed so you are able to pinch your nose and equalising the pressure in your ears.
I hope you enjoyed this article about full face snorkeling masks
I’d love to hear from you. Tell us about your adventures of diving and snorkeling, in the comments below. Please also share your photos. Either from your underwater cameras or videos from your waterproof Gopro’s!
If this article hasn’t answered all of your questions. If you have more questions either about snorkeling or scuba diving (or specifically about full face snorkel masks), please comment below with your questions.
There will also be many more articles about scuba diving (and on snorkeling) for you to read and learn about this fabulous sport.
Have fun and be safe!